UPDATE 11.30am AEST
Queensland captain Cameron Smith has all but confirmed Billy Slater will play in Wednesday night’s State of Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium.
And the Maroons leader has given his strongest hint yet that he believed the veteran fullback would play on in 2018.
Smith said no contingency plan was in place for Slater after the 34-year-old pulled up well from rolling his ankle at training on their Gold Coast camp on Sunday.
Smith said Slater would be given until the last minute to prove his fitness for what may be his final game for Queensland and would not be required to take part in Tuesday’s captain’s run.
Off-contract Melbourne No.1 Slater is yet to confirm whether he will play on in 2018 ahead of his 29th Origin.
“I would much rather prefer him being ready for Wednesday than him being forced into a captain’s run,” Smith said of Slater.
“But I saw him this morning and he is walking around. He said he had done a few hops on the ankle – think he will be right to play.
“He put a scare through the camp yesterday but seeing how good it has pulled up he is confident of playing on Wednesday.”
Injury threatens to end the State of Origin career of another Queensland great after veteran fullback Billy Slater rolled his ankle at training in preparation for the series decider at Suncorp Stadium.
But Maroons flyer Valentine Holmes backed the 34-year-old to run out for what may be his Origin swansong on Wednesday night, avoiding a backline reshuffle that could pitch debutant Ben Hunt into five-eighth.
Veteran five-eighth Johnathan Thurston will receive a pre-match tribute at Suncorp Stadium after a season-ending shoulder injury suffered in game two finished his 37-game Origin career.
However, it didn’t stop Thurston from kicking the match-winning sideline conversion to seal the Maroons’ come-from-behind 18-16 Origin II victory in Sydney.
Off-contract Slater, who has played 28 Origins since 2004, is yet to decide whether he will play on in 2018.
Holmes was confident Slater had not played his last game for Queensland despite sending a scare through their Gold Coast camp on Sunday.
Queensland confirmed Slater hurt his ankle during a drill with minutes left in their main session.
“The coach will give him until kick off to see if he is alright,” Queensland winger Holmes said.
“I am sure he will be alright. He’s walked off (after the incident) so that’s a good sign.”
— 7 News Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) July 9, 2017
Cronulla No.1 Holmes believed in a worse-case scenario Slater’s omission would create a reshuffle that would move five-eighth Cameron Munster to fullback and fellow debutant Hunt from the bench to No.6.
It would mean Hunt would don the famous Maroons No.6 jersey a month after being banished to reserve grade by Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett.
Queensland prop Jarrod Wallace said no one was hitting the panic button after Slater’s scare.
“He said straight away ‘I’ve just rolled my ankle’,” Wallace said of Slater’s incident.
“No one really panicked too much, that’s why we left him with the physios.
“Before game two a couple of the Souths-Logan boys ran over JT (Thurston) and all the boys were panicking.
“You’ve got to expect something every now and then (at training).”
Queensland halfback Cooper Cronk may also be playing his last Origin after announcing this year he would leave his NRL club Melbourne and relocate to Sydney to be with his fiancee next year.
Hasler lays boot into NRL referees
Meanwhile in the NRL, Canterbury coach Des Hasler labelled the referees the most inconsistent he’s ever seen after the Bulldogs’ thrilling 20-18 win over Newcastle on Sunday.
Just a day after Manly coach Trent Barrett let his feelings know on a 14-4 penalty count in favour of Penrith, Hasler heaped further scrutiny on the officials in a frustrated post-match rant.
The Bulldogs coach was seemingly most frustrated over a last-minute penalty against crowd favourite Josh Reynolds for an escort off a short kickoff, which gave Newcastle a shot at goal to send the match into golden point.
The attempt went well wide, however Hasler was still infuriated after his team scored two tries in the final five minutes to steal the match.
“The officiating … I think it’s the most inconsistent I have ever seen it,” Hasler said.
“I think (referees boss) Tony (Archer) has got some work to do.
“They create calls that they don’t need to create calls. We’ve got touchies making calls, pocket referees making calls.”
Hasler claimed the referees weren’t willing to help themselves in a spray that could see him earn the attention of the NRL.
Hasler’s comments came after Archer defended his officials’ decision-making in Penrith’s 16-8 win over the Sea Eagles on Saturday.
Penrith scored a try through what appeared to be a possible knock on, after Panthers teammates Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak both competed for a kick at the same time.
A furious Barrett claimed his side weren’t given a chance to win the match, but Archer defended the bunker call and another crucial penalty against Tom Trbojevic in the ruck later in the second half.
The loss dropped the Sea Eagles to fourth on the ladder, while it kept Penrith within catching distance of the eight – at two wins back.
Elsewhere in round 18, Parramatta inched one step closer to their first finals series in eight years when they beat an Origin-depleted Melbourne 22-6 on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, despite the team being without four Origin players Sydney Roosters kept their spot in the top four with a 14-12 win over South Sydney, as captain Jake Friend set up both of their tries.